Webster Hall

Webster Hall

A full view of the Fifth Avenue façade of Webster Hall. The design is by Henry Hornbostel, who successfully created a conservative Art Deco classicism that harmonizes with the other grand monuments on Fifth Avenue.

The building was apparently put up as fancy bachelor apartments, but soon became a grand hotel (it is now apartments again). It was famous for the Webster Hall Cake, whose secret recipe is still treasured by little old ladies all over Pittsburgh. But old Pa Pitt is delighted to discover that the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle has a whole article on Webster Hall Cake, including two recipes that claim to be close approximations. Father Pitt suspects that there are still little old ladies out there who claim to have the real thing, but these recipes are a good start.

Urban Archaeology: The Hotel Henry

Fragment of a plate from the Hotel Henry

One never knows what may turn up at an old homesite. The Seldom Seen Greenway on the border of Beechview and Mount Washington is forest now, with Saw Mill Run gushing merrily through it. But Seldom Seen was a little village of its own once, and the old homesites are full of broken plates and bottles and other items of intense archaeological interest. Here is a plate from the Hotel Henry, once a grand hotel on Fifth Avenue, but torn down in the 1950s to make way for a modernist skyscraper. Was it bought or stolen from the hotel? We’ll never know.

The Historic Pittsburgh site has a good picture of the Hotel Henry as it appeared in about 1900.

Do you need a copy of the hotel’s logo in scalable form? Probably not, but old Pa Pitt has reconstructed it for you anyway:

Monongahela House

Back in the 1800s the Monongahela House was Pittsburgh’s first-class hotel. Charles Dickens stayed here, which was not enough to give him a good impression of the city. The hotel went through several incarnations; this is how it looked in 1888.

Source: Allegheny County Centennial.

Webster Hall

Webster Hall was designed by Henry Hornbostel, Pittsburgh’s favorite architect in the early twentieth century. It was built as a luxury hotel [Update: in fact it was originally bachelor apartments, but that venture soon failed, and it was converted to a hotel] in 1926, and we can see Hornbostel moving from his flamboyant classical style (as exemplified in the City-County Building) to a sort of restrained Art Deco.

Mellon Square and the William Penn

Mellon Square is one of the few open spaces in downtown Pittsburgh: a whole block of landscaped park (with, curiously, shops underneath it on Smithfield Street, because the park is flat and the land is not). Above, fountains; below, a view of the square looking toward the William Penn, designed by Benno Janssen and built to be the best hotel in America when Henry Frick financed it, and still quite a luxurious hotel. In the middle distance is a Mennonite choir, which is the sort of thing you might stumble across in Mellon Square.